I’ve been playing Super Mario games since the first Super Mario Bros. came out on the NES. I think I’m pretty good at them. However, whenever I see masters like GrandPOOBear playing demonically difficult Super Mario Maker courses, I question the richness of my childhood. In the interest of officially kicking off my midlife crisis, I beseeched GrandPOOBear to coach me in the ways of Mario. He agreed. Welcome to my Super Mario Makeover.
Were this to become a series, the idea is simple: in each episode, GrandPOOBear presents me a custom-made Super Mario Maker 2 level precision-engineered to drill my skills in one particularly tricky speedrun technique. He will coach me until I beg for mercy. When the video ends, my pain continues: in my spare time, I’ll practice the technique.
In the following episode, I’ll show GrandPOOBear my progress, bask in his approval, and then immediately suffer his next challenge.
If somehow this process continues for 10 years, I will have become GrandPOOBear.
For our first lesson, GrandPOOBear intends for me to learn how to “Shell Jump.”
GrandPOOBear describes the Shell Jump as the technique that immediately impresses spectators. “If you can do a Shell Jump, people figure you know what you’re doing.”
Being an avid follower of Mario Maker YouTubers, I am quite familiar with the technique: a player jumps. Mid-jump, the player throws a shell, which then bounces off of a wall. The player character’s feet touch the shell as their jump arcs downward. The player bounces off the shell, completing a jump that would not have been possible using any other available mechanics. Mario Maker level designers include these jumps on purpose to induce players to perform shell jumps. The inclusion of such obstacles requires players to better maintain speed and momentum in other parts of the level.
Like I said: I’m quite familiar with the technique.
I just can’t do one.
“I’m a fraud,” I tell him. “I talk all the time about spending 800 hours playing Super Mario Maker 1, and the truth is I was just making my own levels and never uploading them. I loved it.”
Now, though, I tell him I’m ready to jump right into the deep end. I’m ready to throw off the Fraud Robes and drape myself in the Velvet Of Authenticity.
GrandPOOBear reads me the code to his shell jump seminar level, “Tech Talk: Shell Jump Into Me.” (It’s 9MD-144-RJG.)
Super Mario Maker 2's Course World calmly calls up the level. Immediately the level’s listing rips a thunderous gasp from my lungs: “Tech Talk: Shell Jump Into Me” boasts a dubious 1% clear rate.
We’re not even five minutes in to our recording, and the fear has hit me hardcore. Maybe this classic “resolve” of mine would be better spent elsewhere? A teacher once told me I’m a person of “exceptional intelligence,” though I’ve always thought I was more in the upper 10%. This 1% business freaks me out.
GrandPOOBear had tried to warn me before the recording. He’d said, “I don’t think any of the journalists who wrote about this level have beaten it.”
“Well, I’ll be the first,” I had said.
As I sat there staring at that little number representing the unlikelihood of my success, I wrestled with decades of emotions. I have mastered every Mario on my own terms. I can 100% no-warp clear Super Mario Bros. 3 as little Mario, without taking a single hit.
This Kaizo stuff mystifies me, however. I watch YouTubers and I break out in a cold sweat just trying to imagine what their hands are doing.
I never thought I’d want to learn how to play like them—or even 1% as well as them. Though now that Mario Maker 2 is here, I cannot ignore it: user-generated Kaizo Mario levels are as real and legitimate a part of the tapestry of Super Mario culture as Shigeru Miyamoto’s humble handcrafted courses of the 1980s are.
So I willingly entered the fire for 60 minutes.
I’ve learned to functionally speak 12 languages in my life. I have run several marathons. I once ran two miles in nine minutes and 58 seconds. Furthermore, I deal with Adobe Photoshop daily.
So you’re gonna have to take my word for it when I say that this was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
I have always had massive respect for what speedrunner do with Super Mario World hacks, though today that respect gained 800 pounds.
One hour later, GrandPOOBear said, “You got a lot farther than I thought you would.”
Maybe I know something about Mario after all. Or maybe GrandPOOBear’s advice to buy the Hori Pokken Tournament DX wired controller had been crucial.
How far, exactly, did I get into his painful gauntlet? According to GrandPOOBear, I failed on the second-to-last obstacle.
Of course, I intend for these videos to be a documentation of a learning process. While I was perfectly open to capturing a first-lesson triumph over this level, it’s probably more fitting that I ultimately failed.
Because no athlete’s story is complete without brutal setbacks. I’ll accept this setback as an indication that my meteoric rise to greatness shall be even more operatic than I had anticipated.
So that what you see in the video is real, I promise I had not played GrandPOOBear’s Shell Jump level before the recording of this episode. However, I will play it a lot off camera, in hopes of shattering it for episode two.
I will become a Mario champion. I will vampire every last trickle of skill out of GrandPOOBear. I will become as a god; GrandPOOBear will become as a bag of empty flesh on a bus station floor.
By the way: We tried to record this last week, and failed. I have archived the failure on YouTube, if you want to see it. I’ve titled it “Lesson Zero.” In “Lesson Zero,” GrandPOOBear coaches me on controller choices while I troubleshoot my internet connection. Spoiler: it turns out Nintendo’s pre-release code of the game had expired. So yes. Lesson zero is: buy the darn game.